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Edward Dahlberg Biography

(1900–77), Bottom Dogs, New Masses, Those Who Perish, Do These Bones Live, The Flea of Sodom

literary letters critical written

American novelist and essayist, born in Boston, Massachusetts; he left a Jewish orphanage to drift around the USA and Europe. He graduated from Columbia University in 1925. Bottom Dogs (1929), a novel dealing with his orphan years in Kansas City and Cleveland, was written as an expatriate and first appeared in London, with an introduction by D. H. Lawrence. Dahlberg was on the literary left in the 1930s, writing for magazines such as New Masses, and producing Those Who Perish (1934), a specifically anti-Nazi novel. His early works were in a vernacular, social realist vein, but he developed a richly allusive prose full of classical and biblical references, seasoned with a recondite vocabulary. Do These Bones Live (1941) is his major work of polemical literary criticism and marks the change in style. A mentor to Charles Olson, with whom he eventually quarrelled, Dahlberg seized upon America as a mythic subject. The essays in The Flea of Sodom (1950) and The Sorrows of Priapus (1957) are often bitterly critical of modern culture and remarkable for their moral astringency and preoccupation with myth. He returned to more conventional narrative in the 1960s, and his critical reputation began to be rewarded. Among other works, Dahlberg has written a literary autobiography, Because I Was Flesh (1964); An Edward Dahlberg Reader (1967); and Epitaphs For Our Times (1967), a volume of selected letters. In 1968 he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Disputatious and rootless, Dahlberg's ‘true parable lay in his own personal confessions of a Jew in America’ (Paul Christensen).

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